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Possible Change to School Dropout Age

Posted at: 01/31/2013 9:53 PM
Updated at: 01/31/2013 10:17 PM
By: John Doetkott

(ABC 6 News) -- Minnesota’s high schoolers continue to rate among the highest in the nation on standardized tests, but some officials say those aren’t the statistics we should be worried about.

In 2011, the statewide dropout rate was 4.8 percent. That's more than double the dropout rate for Iowa, which stands at 2.3 percent.
     
Carlos Mariani, a democratic state representative from St. Paul, said part of the problem is that kids who drop out don't legally have to be in class.

“It's frankly an inconsistent message,” Rep. Mariani said. “To then tell young people, ‘Hey, by the time you're 16, it doesn't matter…it's ok for you to leave.’”

In order to change that, Rep. Mariani has introduced a bill that would raise the state's compulsory school attendance age from 16 to 18.
     
Nineteen states still allow students to drop out at age 16, including Minnesota and Iowa. The other 31 states require school attendance through age 17 or 18.
    
But skeptics wonder, would joining that majority really solve the problem?

“I think that what we want to be careful of is to not think that any one thing is going to fix a problem,” said Ann DeGroot, a member of the Minneapolis Youth Coordinating Board.

DeGroot's organization helps support kids who are struggling academically, and she said Rep. Mariani's bill could help but needs to be part of a broader effort targeted at teens on a case by case basis.

“I think it's sort of figuring out which resources are needed for which kid,” DeGroot said.

Rep. Mariani agrees but said his bill would help bolster those efforts.

Educators get it, the president gets it, he's called for this as well, people in the private sector get it, so it's time for the legislature to get it,” Rep. Mariani said.

Experts say there could be downsides to changing the law as well.

Changing the dropout age to 18 would cost the state more money because more kids would be in class, and one study even suggested that dropouts cost the state almost $4 billion over their lifetime.